Reading Note – Isaiah 56 – To Daughters, Foreigners and Eunuchs

The status of women in the Bible is often a discussion topic, so I make a note of relevant points related to the issue whenever I find them.

  • Isaiah 56 begins with a common admonition: Keep Justice, Do Righteousness, Keep the Sabbath, Don’t do evil. If you got all the way to Isaiah and hadn’t figured any of those things out, you’re probably a normal human being.
  • Next comes a promise to foreigners. Not just foreign people living in Israel, but Foreigners who have “joined themselves to the Lord”; who minister to him, love his name, serve him, keep the Sabbath, and the covenant. The promise is that God will accept their worship, even in his temple.
  • “For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” – Isaiah 56:7
  • Next comes the promise to Eunuchs. Those eunuchs who choose to serve God get a promise of recognition, “a name better better than sons and daughters”, “an everlasting name”.
  • This is important in light of the command in Deuteronomy 23:1, “No one whose testicles are crushed or whose male organ is cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord.” That God promises them “a monument and a name” “in his house and within his walls” is a curious thing, then.
  • These two promises suggests that God cares for eunuchs and foreigners, and herald a change in the temple policies (although not too explicitly). The passage is a message of hope to those who feel like outcasts.
  • Notice that the promises are made to those who keep God’s law, not those who deep down, in their hearts, care about God and maintain that only God can judge their actions. It’s a reminder that despite all our talk about being saved by grace through faith and not by works, actions are important to God. Our actions reveal the desire of our hearts. As Jesus said, “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me” (John 14:21). Or as James more succinctly put it, “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17).
  • Finally, the promise to eunuchs is a name better than “sons and daughters”, not better than sons. The comparison is to the value of children, not to the value of sons. As a hint about the cultural attitudes, it says that Hebrew culture at that time did value female children. In contrast to the “maybe we should drown them” attitude of some cultures.
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Judges 4 – Reading Note – Deborah the Judge

Deborah is an interesting character for me because she was (a) a woman and (b) a judge of Israel (the highest political position at the time). She was also a Prophetess and married. I take note of these things in case someone begins talking about the status of women in the ANE.

  • As is the story all through Judges, the people of Israel sinned against God and he let Jabin, the king of Canaan, oppress them.
  • Eventually, God had mercy on the and decided to save them. he sent a message to Barak through the Judge Deborah that he was to attack Sisera, the commander of Jabin’s army.
  • Balak refused to go unless Deborah went with him, the scaredy cat.
  • Deborah consents to accompany him, but informs him that the glory for killing Sisera would go to a woman instead of him as a result.
  • The battle goes well and Sisera flees, so Barak pursues him.
  • Then comes the star of the whole show. Jael, whose husband was pals with Jabin, welcomes Sisera to her home, put him to sleep, and drives a tent peg through his head.
  • This victory led to future ones until the Israelites were free of Jabin.

Once again, God showed mercy and came to his people’s resucue using two women but he didn’t do it at once. It took some time.

Deuteronomy 25 – Reading Note – Let’s Discuss Women

  • The law demanded that flogging be limited to forty strokes. Any more would be degrading to the offender (25: 1 – 3).
  • If a man died without leaving a son, his brother had duty to his widow to marry her and give her children. There was no punishment for refusing to do so, but he would be shamed for his refusal.

“However, if a man does not want to marry his brother’s wife, she shall go to the elders at the town gate and say, “My husband’s brother refuses to carry on his brother’s name in Israel. He will not fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to me.” Then the elders of his town shall summon him and talk to him. If he persists in saying, “I do not want to marry her,” his brother’s widow shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, take off one of his sandals, spit in his face and say, “This is what is done to the man who will not build up his brother’s family line.”  That man’s line shall be known in Israel as The Family of the Unsandaled.” – Deut 25: 7 – 10

  • If a two men were fighting and the wife of one of them grabs the other by his private parts, her hand was to be cut off (25: 11, 12). I have written about this before.
  • God detests anyone who acts dishonestly – like deceiving someone about the price of a good (25: 13 – 16). No exceptions? Like deceiving a potential murderer?
  • And finally, God told them not to forget what the Amalekites had done to them and to make sure they destroyed Amalek.

Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt. When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and attacked all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God. When the Lord your God gives you rest from all the enemies around you in the land he is giving you to possess as an inheritance, you shall blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget! –Deut 25: 17 – 19

Deuteronomy 22 – Reading Note – Marriages, Sex, Rape and Kindness

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  • The law mandated kindness, although no penalty was prescribed for it. If someone lost something and you found it, you had to return it instead of ignoring or stealing it (22: 1 – 4).
  • It forbade other things like taking both a bird and its eggs, planting two kinds of seeds on the same land, mixing wool and linen in clothes and plowing with an ox and donkey together (22: 6 – 7; 9-11).
  • It also provides for the safety of member of the community, requiring the people to make parapets on their roofs to keep others from falling (22:8).
  • It forbids cross-dressing (22:5). It does not just forbid it as an aspect of the mosaic law, it says that God hates it and as we all know, we should probably avoid what God hates.
  •  Verses 13 – 21 discuss the issue of a man who accuses his new wife of promiscuity, specifically of not being a virgin on her wedding night. Her parents were to bring proof of her chastity if they had it. If it was proven that he had lied, then the man was to be punished and fined (ten years’ wages, I hear). If, however, the woman really had been promiscuous, she was to be stoned to death. Promiscuity was, after all, forbidden. The example in the text is one in which the girl’s parents present the blood-stained sheet from her wedding night, but I read somewhere that other sorts of evidence were often used – testimony of her good character, or evidence that girls in her family did not bleed for instance1.
  • Some other rules are on sex and marriage and seem pretty simple. Consensual sex between a married or betrothed woman and a man who was not her husband or fiancé was punishable by death for both participants. Rape of a married or betrothed woman by a man who was not her husband or fiancé was punishable by death for the man. Punishment of the woman was forbidden because it was like murder.
  • Rape of a woman who was not betrothed or married was a different issue. The man was to be fined (5 years wages) and had to marry her (22: 28-29). I have always assumed that this was because the girl needed a husband and who wanted to marry a girl who wasn’t a virgin? Better make the rapist marry her then and don’t let him get out of that marriage. But a lot of non-Christians (and even Christians) see this as a punishment for the girl or an act of injustice towards her because she is forced to marry her attacker. After all, who wants to marry their rapist? I know I wouldn’t. Here are my 2 cents:
    • This cannot possibly be a punishment for the girl because verses 25 and 26 already say that a girl who was raped was innocent and compares it to a man attacking and murdering his neighbor. The girl was the victim. That is the reason it forbade punishing raped betrothed or married girls.
    • I am not quite sure about the girl being forced to marry the rapist and I’ll give one rationale and one example.
      • Rationale: A somewhat similar case in Exodus allows the father to refuse the marriage.

“If a man seduces a virgin who is not pledged to be married and sleeps with her, he must pay the bride-price, and she shall be his wife.  If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he must still pay the bride-price for virgins.  (Ex 22.16)

Fathers loved their daughters even in those days (2 Samuel 12: 1 – 3) so I expect that her father would do what he thought best for her taking into consideration her feelings towards her attacker– provide her with a husband or just take the fine and hope she finds someone else. It is a rabbinic principle that whatever applies in a minor case applies in a major one2 so if the father could refuse in the case of consensual sex, surely he could refuse in the case of rape.

  • Example: The case of Tamar and Amnon

“In the course of time, Amnon son of David fell in love with Tamar, the beautiful sister of Absalom son of David. Amnon became so obsessed with his sister Tamar that he made himself ill. She was a virgin, and it seemed impossible for him to do anything to her. […]So Amnon lay down and pretended to be ill. When the king came to see him, Amnon said to him, ‘I would like my sister Tamar to come and make some special bread in my sight, so that I may eat from her hand.’

David sent word to Tamar at the palace: ‘Go to the house of your brother Amnon and prepare some food for him.’ So Tamar went to the house of her brother Amnon, who was lying down. She took some dough, kneaded it, made the bread in his sight and baked it. Then she took the pan and served him the bread, but he refused to eat.

‘Send everyone out of here,’ Amnon said. So everyone left him. Then Amnon said to Tamar, ‘Bring the food here into my bedroom so that I may eat from your hand.’ And Tamar took the bread she had prepared and brought it to her brother Amnon in his bedroom. But when she took it to him to eat, he grabbed her and said, ‘Come to bed with me, my sister.’

‘No, my brother!’ she said to him. ‘Don’t force me! Such a thing should not be done in Israel! Don’t do this wicked thing. What about me? Where could I get rid of my disgrace? And what about you? You would be like one of the wicked fools in Israel. Please speak to the king; he will not keep me from being married to you.’ But he refused to listen to her, and since he was stronger than she, he raped her.

Then Amnon hated her with intense hatred. In fact, he hated her more than he had loved her. Amnon said to her, ‘Get up and get out!’ ‘No!’ she said to him. ‘Sending me away would be a greater wrong than what you have already done to me.’ But he refused to listen to her. He called his personal servant and said, ‘Get this woman out of my sight and bolt the door after her.’ So his servant put her out and bolted the door after her. She was wearing an ornate robe, for this was the kind of garment the virgin daughters of the king wore. Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the ornate robe she was wearing. She put her hands on her head and went away, weeping aloud as she went.” – 2 Samuel 13: 1 – 19

In that story, it is Tamar who begs Amnon to let her stay, saying that it would be wrong to now send her away. It is not her father or brother or even Amnon asking her to stay with him. Perhaps it is possible to interpret this in other ways and I would be happy if you presented your views on the issue, but it seems to me that Tamar did, in fact, want to remain with Amnon, and escape the status of being an unmarriageable woman. The text goes on to tell us what happened to her.

“Her brother Absalom said to her, ‘Has that Amnon, your brother, been with you? Be quiet for now, my sister; he is your brother. Don’t take this thing to heart.’ And Tamar lived in her brother Absalom’s house, a desolate woman.”

For those interested in reading further, it’s very interesting. Absalom goes on to murder Amnon, run away to avoid punishment, set Joab’s fields on fire (I dislike Joab) and proclaim himself king. It’s fascinating.

1 Jewish Women in Greco-Roman Palestine, 98 – 99 Tal Ilan, Hendrickson:1995.
2 Marriage and Family in the Biblical World. 48. Ken Campbell (ed). IVP:2003

Deuteronomy 21 – Reading Note – Marrying a Captive Woman, Among Other Things

  • If a man was found dead in a field and it was not known who had killed him, the elders of the town closest to the body must swear that they did not witness the crime and make atonement with a sacrifice. This was done so that God would not hold the whole the whole community responsible for the crime (21: 1 – 9).
  • A firstborn son was not to be treated unfairly by having his birthright revoked if his mother was not his father’s favorite wife. This was obviously in the interest of justice and truth. Justice by giving the firstborn what he deserved and truth by acknowledging him as the firstborn. (21: 15 – 17)
  • A rebellious son who had repeatedly refused correction could be put to death for his rebellion if both his father and mother testified against him, not just because he refused to obey them, but that the things they asked of him were good (21: 18 – 21). The mother was counted as a full witness (recall the two witness rule) not half a witness as in Islamic law.
  • A man who liked a captive woman could marry her but he had to follow certain procedures
  1. Make her shave her head, trim her nails and change the clothes she had worn when she was captured
  2. Let her live in his house for a month and mourn her parents.
  3. After that, she could be his wife.

If afterwards, he decided not to marry her, he could not sell her or treat her as a slave because he had dishonored her. She was free to go wherever she desired. I wonder what it means when it says he dishonored her.

This law implicitly condemns fornication. It requires a man who likes a captive to marry her, not just commit fornication with her or rape her or even make her his slave or concubine. It also requires him to give her time to finish her mourning, which is good. Here is a brief commentary I found on it:

According to the war customs of all ancient nations, a female captive became the slave of the victor, who had the sole and unchallengeable control of right to her person. Moses improved this existing usage by special regulations on the subject. He enacted that, in the event that her master was captivated by her beauty and contemplated a marriage with her, a month should be allowed to elapse, during which her perturbed feelings might be calmed, her mind reconciled to her altered condition, and she might bewail the loss of her parents, now to her the same as dead. A month was the usual period of mourning with the Jews, and the circumstances mentioned here were the signs of grief–the shaving of the head, the allowing the nails to grow uncut, the putting off her gorgeous dress in which ladies, on the eve of being captured, arrayed themselves to be the more attractive to their captors. The delay was full of humanity and kindness to the female slave, as well as a prudential measure to try the strength of her master’s affections. If his love should afterwards cool and he become indifferent to her person, he was not to lord it over her, neither to sell her in the slave market, nor retain her in a subordinate condition in his house; but she was to be free to go where her inclinations led her. [source]

Numbers 31 – Reading Note – Vengeance against Midian

I told you that you would need to remember Numbers 25 for this one. So, first, a brief recap:

In Numbers 25, the people of Moab and Midian had their women seduce the Israelite men and then lead them into idolater. They were advised to do this by Balaam, who Balak , king of Moab, had previously hired to curse Israel. Their plan worked well and God punished Israel. All the men who had committed adultery were killed and 24,000 people died from a plague that God sent. God then gave Moses this command.

“Treat the Midianites as enemies and kill them, because they treated you as enemies when they deceived you in the affair of Peor and their sister Cozbi, the daughter of a Midianite leader, the woman who was killed when the plague came as a result of Peor.” – Num 25: 17, 18

God asked the Israelites not to forget what the Midianites had done to them, but to make sure they fought them for it. Call this vengeance or revenge or justice or just plain old restitution.

Here in numbers 31, the Israelites finally get around to doing it. God tells Moses,

“Take vengeance on the Midianites for the Israelites. After that, you will be gathered to your people. ”

Moses puts together and army. The army attacks Midian and wins. They kill all the men (including Balaam) and take the women, children, livestock and goods. When Moses learns of this, he is very angry and asks the people why they let the women live. After all, it was the women who seduced the Israelite men and led them into idolatry. They were instrumental in the whole thing. That was when he uttered the now famous statement.

“Have you allowed all the women to live?” he asked them. “They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and were the means of turning the Israelites away from the Lord in what happened at Peor, so that a plague struck the Lord’s people. Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.” – Num 31: 15 – 18

You can hear that statement trumpeted from the rooftops as evidence of the evil of Christianity and an example of rape in the Bible. The story goes that the sexually perverse and bloodthirsty Israelites, after killing all the men, killed all the young boys and women who had ever had sex (because they were impure) and saved the virgin girls for sex later. They also had to rape the girls right there because how else could they figure out who was a virgin and who was not?

Some of those things are pretty straightforward to answer.

  1. Why were the virgins saved and the other women killed? Was it for sex?: That conclusion is unnecessary. Evidently, the virgins had nothing to do with seducing and leading away the Israelite men. Therefore, if as Moses said, the women were being killed for their part in hurting the Israelites, it makes sense that the virgins were excluded.
  2. Why were the boys killed?: I do not know. I once heard someone say that the only other options were to either assimilate them or leave them to starve. If they were assimilated into Israel, they might have later grown up and took revenge upon the Israelites. I believe that is conceivable but I cannot give a more solid answer than that.
  3.  How do you know the girls were not raped?: I cannot say that not one of the girls was sexually assaulted. I am in no position to know such a thing. However, I can say that such actions were condemned. Sex outside of marriage was forbidden. If any man saw a captured woman that he liked, he had to marry her (I assume this required her consent), first giving her time to mourn her family and then she had the full rights of a wife. (deut 21: 10 – 14)
  4.  How did they know which women were virgins and which were not without raping them?: Dressing. Women sometimes dressed differently according to their class – virgins, married women, temple prostitutes, etc. They could have some sort of special jewelry, shawl or head gear. For instance, the virgin daughters of the king on Israel had a special ornamented robe that they wore. (2 Sam 13: 18)
  5.   If the girls were not going to be raped or used as sex slaves, why did Moses say the people could take them ‘for yourselves’?: They did take them for themselves. Who else would they have taken them for – God? In the chapter, the girls are divided among the groups in the community. That the Israelites took them ‘for themselves’ says nothing about what was done with them. It is merely a statement about what group or person they belong to.

All the captives and plundered goods were shared among the people, warriors, priests and Levites. The Warriors got a larger share than the others (except perhaps the priests and Levites.

The warriors later counted themselves and found out that not one of them was missing so they gave an offering to God.

I do have real questions/problems with this chapter.

1. It seems quite improbable that all the men and women killed actually had a hand in the incident. Does this constitute injustice?

2. The reasons I have heard for killing the boys are far from satisfactory. I know that I cannot judge the situation until I actually know why it was done and this irritates me all the more. There’s nothing like having to say ‘I don’t know’ whenever someone asks that question.

3. What was done to the girls who were not killed?

Numbers 30 – Reading Note

 

  • If a man, any man, made a vow, he was bound to keep it regardless (30: 1, 2).
  • If a young woman still living with her father took a pledge, she could not break it unless her father heard it and forbade it. In that case, she was released from the vow (30: 3 – 5).
  • If a woman married immediately after making a vow, her husband could forbid the vow and she would not have to fulfill it (30: 6 – 8).
  • If a widow or divorced woman made a vow, she was bound by it (30:9).
  • If a married woman living with her husband made a vow, her husband could nullify it if it was a vow to ‘deny herself’. If he nullified it, she was not bound by it. Otherwise, she had to fulfill it. If he did not nullify it immediately after hearing of it, but later on, he was responsible for her guilt (30: 10 – 15).
  • On one hand, these laws seem to provide (young) women a chance to get out of vows, but on the other, it might restrict their ability to serve God in that way. If a woman’s father or husband (if she was newly married) did not like a good vow she had made, he could nullify it.
  • The restriction that a husband could nullify (only) vows his wife made to deny herself may or may not be reasonable depending on what ‘deny herself’ actually means.
  • Think these laws laws oppress women? Perhaps. Define oppression.